Fungi power project leads $3 million in Federal funding grants

26/05/2023 | 3 mins

A cutting-edge project using synthetic biology to create a special type of manufacturing platform using fungi is one of five projects at The University of Western Australia awarded nearly $3 million in Federal Government funding.

The grants, awarded under the Australian Research Council’s Industry Fellowship Scheme, will be used for research ranging from a new system to measure stress in Australian Defence Force employees to a study predicting the future resilience of reef-fronted coastal habitats in marine parks.

The Fellowship Scheme is designed to help solve industry-defined challenges using the expertise and skills of researchers from universities and industry, with the aim of delivering significant, actionable outcomes for industry partners, end-users and the Australian community.

Dr Yit-Heng Chooi, from UWA’s School of Molecular Science, was awarded $1,049,904 as part of a Mid-Career Industry Fellowship for his project Fungi Power: Designer Fungal Cell Factories for Advanced Biomanufacturing, working with industry partners Microbial Screening Technologies, Natural MedTech and Nourish Ingredients.

Dr Chooi said filamentous fungi, also known as mould, was a type of fungi characterised by its long, thread-like structures, and had enormous potential to produce valuable products, including life-saving drugs and antibiotics.

“Recent advancements in DNA technologies known as synthetic biology allow us to engineer fungi to produce an even larger variety of substances, making it possible to build a sustainable bioeconomy –
however, Australia is falling behind in adopting this technology,” Dr Chooi said. 

“Our project aims to bridge this gap by working with industries to engineer super fungi that can be used to make a range of high-value products in a sustainable manner, such as drugs, biopesticides, fine chemicals and specialised food and health ingredients.” 

Research Associate Dr Kai Chen, from UWA’s School of Molecular Science, will work with PYC Therapeutics and Carl Zeiss to learn more about how antisense molecules, which act like special messengers to our genes, move within our cells and tissues The project will use an Early Career Industry Fellowship grant of nearly $463,000.

A $442,000 Early Career Industry Fellowship grant awarded to Dr Michael Cuttler, from UWA’s Oceans Graduate School and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, will be used to develop a new way of predicting and understanding how coastal habitats in marine parks would cope with changes in the environment.

Dr Zach Howard, from the UWA School of Psychological Science, will employ innovative techniques from statistics, psychology and neuroscience to create new ways of measuring how hard brains are working in real-time while using advanced defence technologies. 

Dr Howard will work with the Defence Science and Technology Group and Local WA start-up Agili8 on the project after being awarded an Early Career Industry Fellowship grant of $470,000.

Forrest Foundation Prospect Fellow Dr Arnold van Rooijen, from the Oceans Graduate School, will use a $470,550 Early Career Industry Fellowship grant to study the use of bioengineered structures for protecting shorelines and habitats. 

By understanding how the structures interact with waves and promote vegetation growth, the project aims to develop guidelines and tools that will help shoreline managers create effective and affordable nature-based solutions for protection against shoreline flooding and erosion.

Industry partners include the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Syrinx Environmental, Tranen Revegetation Systems, Damara WA, Reef Design Lab International, The Nature Conservancy and Djoona.

(Image above: Dr Arnold van Rooijen, Dr Yit-Heng Chooi, Dr Zach Howard, Dr Kai Chen, Dr Michael Cuttler)

Media references

Annelies Gartner (PR & Media Manager) 08 6488 3229                                                                                           

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